In this welcome update from the National Fire Chiefs Council, we look at how fire and rescue services benefit from the continued evolution of National Operational Guidance, the influence of HMICFRS inspections and the opportunities arising from the new Fire Standards Board.
After six years of hard work, the fire and rescue service in the UK has modernised its operational guidance, making it fit for a digital world. Jo Bowcock, then Deputy Head of Portfolio at the National Fire Chiefs Council’s (NFCC) Central Programme Office reported in the November 2018 edition of UK Fire on how the National Operational Guidance Programme delivered not only guidance for all aspects of operations but also materials to support training and a learning system that would ensure that the guidance remained up to date in the long term.
Since then, Jo has moved on to become Assistant Chief Officer in Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service and I am now heading up the team to manage National Operational Guidance (or NOG as it is more commonly known) where we form part of the NFCC’s improvement programme.
The NFCC is investing in a substantial programme of improvement that includes community risk, people and digital and data. These three programmes bear all the hallmarks of the good practice that we put in place for developing NOG. They are based on industry-standard programme and project management methods; they involve subject matter experts from within fire and rescue services; and they call upon expertise and input from those in the wider fire sector and beyond. Peer review continues to be at the heart of the work.
A big part of our business-as-usual activity involves maintaining NOG and supporting fire and rescue services with implementation at a local level. Evolving local policy and practice to reflect the NOG approach requires change in fire and rescue services, and as a result we offer tools to help services implement the guidance at a local level. It’s not just about the words but how they are borne out in day-to-day activity in all areas of fire service operations.
With our digital platform we are able to apply a more agile approach to developing NOG. We get regular feedback from users of the guidance ranging from trivial edits to more fundamental matters. We are committed to responding quickly to our users and if we can’t do what they want, we want them to know why. As well as reacting to our users, we have a proactive programme of updates with a three-yearly review cycle.
This approach reflects the NFCC’s values of transparency and openness as set out in the NFCC’s strategy. Our processes also make sure we continue to do our due diligence before any changes are made, so that includes peer review and governance.
One other way in which NOG is influenced is through learning. Jo reported on creation of National Operational Learning and since 2018 we have seen fire and rescue services embrace the principles of sharing learning. The majority of learning submitted is based on incidents: some is less significant but helps us build a picture and identify trends of how services actually operate; some is more fundamental as we continue to analyse the learning from larger incidents. One thing we are starting to learn is that on the whole NOG is standing up well to scrutiny.
Indeed, the reports from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Fire and Rescue (HMICFRS) include many references to NOG and how fire and rescue services are implementing it at a local level. HMICFRS is looking for a sea change about how services are implementing NOG and reflecting it in their local policies. Services were bound to be in variable places with their implementation as they all had their starting points for their own journeys with NOG.
We hope that the gap between where services are now and where HMICFRS would like them to be will be reduced over time. We are getting great feedback from fire and rescue services and we are seeing the work of the last six years begin to pay dividends, such as seeing the language of NOG in local materials. It will take time for all services to reach the level of implementation that HMICFRS expects, but I am optimistic.
While we covered the broad spectrum of operations through the development of NOG, we know that there are some gaps. One such area relates to control rooms: both HMICFRS and the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 report highlight the lack of guidance in this important part of front-line response. Control-room personnel need to be supported in the same way as firefighters.
As we have developed the project on control-room guidance, we have found it more of a challenge to bring in subject-matter experts to help us with our work. The simple fact of the matter is that there are considerably fewer control room personnel than front-line firefighters, but we do need their input to ensure that the resulting guidance is the very best it can be. We are fortunate that the Project Executive is NFCC control room lead, CFO Darryl Keen from Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. With his intimate knowledge of the related work on the Emergency Services Network and other related developments in the control-room world, we are in a great place.
The Fire Standards Board was established last year and forms an important part of the improvement of the fire and rescue service. NOG is a good place to look when starting to think about standards for fire and rescue. We think that there could be three main standards for NOG, although this is just a starting point, and these could change over time.
Operational preparedness – this will set an expectation that the strategic actions that are defined within NOG to support competent incident management have been completed by a service. In other words that the service has done everything it can to equip, provide systems, policies and communications to support incident management. The NFCC provides a gap analysis tool on ukfrs.com to assist services with this.
Operational Competence – this will set an expectation that the hazards and control measures at tactical level in NOG appropriate to the roles of firefighters have been adopted within each service; and that they are understood and are being used in a way that is tailored to the circumstances of each incident. The expectation will be of decision-makers at incidents (who are not just incident commanders) assessing the hazards at an incident and identifying and implementing the appropriate control measures.
Operational Learning – this will set an expectation that every service should be embedding learning in its operational response. This will strengthen the national approach to operational learning and drive better use of the National Operational Learning system. The outcome of this Fire Standard will be to achieve a ‘closed loop’ of learning through debriefing and other feedback; consideration of outputs; analysis; feedback into services for them to act on and then collating evidence of that learning driving change and improvement.
Operational response is a vital and key area of activity for all fire and rescue services, but it is clear their local policies and procedures that underpin their operational response are different. As Fire Standards for these areas of activity are published, there will need to be time allowed for services to work towards achieving them.
While the NOG Programme may have ended, the work of improving and implementing operational guidance needs to continue as it is a significant element of fire and rescue service improvement. It’s an exciting place to work and we are often on the lookout for new team members, so do get in touch if you would like to be involved.
For more information, go to www.ukfrs.com